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Agencies warn govt over food aid politicisation

By Bridget Mananavire

Relief agencies working with government in developmental programmes including food aid — have warned they could suspend funding if there is lack of transparency in the distribution of resources which are meant for vulnerable groups.

ICRC distributes maize to farmers in Zimbabwe's Fuchira region affected by drought
ICRC distributes maize to farmers in Zimbabwe’s Fuchira region affected by drought

This comes as government has spiritedly batted away allegations of partisan distribution of food aid in the impoverished communities.

At an emergency meeting held in Harare yesterday between the Labour and Social Welfare ministry and its developmental partners — it was revealed that government’s biggest partner in the distribution of grain — the World Food Programme (WFP) had received more than 1 000 complaints in six months from aggrieved communities.

“We just started the hotline this year. From April to now, we have already received more than 1 000 calls and people raise all kinds of issues from the selection of beneficiaries, issues related to registration, from the quantity of the food basket even issues related to exclusion of vulnerable households or wrong inclusion of certain households,” said WFP  head of Vulnerability Analysis Unit, Joao Manja.

“We are in the process of actually hiring the services of an external consultant who will probably with an independent eye, analyse these reports and assess how this could be substantiated.  62 percent of our callers have been females so far.

“We are guided by humanitarian principles, humanity neutrality, and gender equality.

“These are the torches that illuminate WFPs programmes and we cannot move away from that, we are really strict about these principles. Credibility and transparency of our systems are an issue,” he added.

United States Agency for International Development (USAid) Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience office director, Jason Taylor said lack of credibility in drought relief programmes would affect future funding.

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“We take the issue of El Nino extremely seriously and have been working very hard to mobilise resources, that said we also take the concerns around partisan targeting of assistance extremely seriously and doing everything we can to follow up on whether or not it exists in our areas of operation or outside those areas of operation and,” said Taylor.

“The reasons or our ability to advocate for future resources depends on our ability and excellence in implementing our current resources and ensuring they are distributed in a way that is verifiable, accountable, evidence based, transparent and in keeping with other humanitarian principles.”

Rights and opposition groups have accused government of distributing food on partisan lines —preferring to reward Zanu PF supporters at the expense of vulnerable groups that are not necessarily the former liberation movement’s backers.

Labour and Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira who hosted the relief agencies and rights groups at her offices yesterday, dismissed allegations of partisan food distribution.

“I think its lack of information and not understanding how the system works. When people are given food no one requests a party card. The accusation is not true,” said Mupfumira.

“The president himself has said no Zimbabwean should starve of hunger.  It’s not along any party lines but for everyone.

“Assessment of individuals needing assistance is not done on party lines, religious lines or anything of that sort.

“I have no problem with any MP or any Senator wanting to know what is happening, my problem arises when they want to be the ones distributing the food. Whenever there is distribution it must be done through social welfare.

“The position is clear. That’s why we have the Food Mitigation committee, the drought relief committee and social welfare. Yes there can be a distress call from an MP, but we do the distribution through social welfare. I want them to be interested but I don’t want them to be part of the distribution,” added Mupfumira.

The United Kingdom Department of International Development (DFID) humanitarian advisor Mira Gratier said the agency took seriously allegations of politicisation of resources.

“Although we might not be funding some of the programmes, they affect all of us.  They affect our credibility collectively in being able to respond.

“Our focus is to making sure the resources we have are able to reach the most vulnerable and I think we need the entire system to be transparent.

“We welcome the leadership in ensuring this, not just for food aid but all the different sectors and we welcome the leadership to ensure that this is going to be the case,” said Gratier. Daily News